These Wounds, They Will Not Heal: Chester Bennington and the Spectre of Depression and Suicide in Music

By on Monday, 24th July 2017 at 11:00 am
 

“Crawling in my skin
These wounds they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real

There’s something inside me
That pulls beneath the surface
Consuming, confusing
This lack of self control I fear
Is never ending, controlling
I can’t seem to find myself again
My walls are closing in…”

– ‘Crawling’, Linkin Park, released March 2001

Life was very different in America in March 2001. This was pre-9/11, too, remember. Having grown up pretty much on what my parents listened to (unoffensive ‘60s and classical) and my brother (what’s now classic rock and ‘80s bands), then having been sucked into the boyband craze, the last thing I wanted to listen to were a rap rock/metal hybrid band called Linkin Park. I felt no connection to the growing popularity of emo and punk and the continuing rise of hip-hop. Seeing Linkin Park on Total Request Live on MTV, covered in tattoos and piercings, wearing all black and looking pretty aggro, a band like them were just about the furthest you could get from my conservative upbringing.

Although I couldn’t relate with their look and fashion aesthetic – I suspect I’d have had a different opinion of them from the start if I hadn’t seen them on MTV and in their music videos – Chester Bennington’s vocals impressed me in the depth of their emotions, the pained wailings of a man in crisis, through. You just didn’t expect a voice like that to come out of a gangly white dude with glasses. The lyrics of Linkin Park managed a good balance between measured tones to tell a story in the verses and confrontational screaming matches in the choruses. In hindsight and in the wake of Bennington’s suicide last week, this combination probably mirrored what he experienced in his own life: an existence of two extremes.

Something important we should all take to heart in his death, and also in the death of his friend Chris Cornell 2 months prior, is just how deceptive and insidious mental illness can be. Most people who are struggling with depression aren’t trying to kill themselves every waking moment of the day. By hiding how they feel from everyone else, they look okay to you and me from the outside, while struggling under the surface. Bennington had everything to live for: Linkin Park had released their seventh album, ‘One More Light’, in the spring, had completed the South American and European legs of the LP’s promotional tour and were to begin their North American campaign less than a week later in Boston. Bennington hung himself on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday. While we’ll never know for sure, it’s hard to imagine Cornell’s own suicide not contributing to Bennington’s own mental state.

If you are reading this and have never contemplated taking your life, the best image I can give you to get close to the feeling is one of utter hopelessness. Imagine arriving at the lowest feeling you’ve ever felt, that you feel the future is so bleak that there’s no point in going on and seeing tomorrow. Bennington admitted in an interview with SPIN in 2009 that his battles with drug and drink had a positive side for him creatively: “I have been able to tap into all the negative things that can happen to me throughout my life by numbing myself to the pain so to speak and kind of being able to vent it through my music.” In Linkin Park’s massive 2001 hit ‘Crawling’, he explained the song was written “…about feeling like I had no control over myself in terms of drugs and alcohol.” Still, in the interview he went on to say that he was proud to be sober, so we had every reason to hope that his demons had been laid to rest. Unknown to me until doing the research for this essay, Bennington was a survivor of sexual abuse as a child, and he was bullied in school for looking different. He told The Guardian in 2011, “When I was young, getting beaten up and pretty much raped was no fun…No one wants that to happen to you and honestly, I don’t remember when it started.” There’s no doubt that his angst-filled lyrics came from the dark places his mind had gone to, and it’s likely he entertained the idea of suicide before the end.

On another megahit from ‘Hybrid Theory’ and also their highest charting single in America, ‘In the End’, the lyrics speak of trying so hard but in failing to reach success, the only option left is to give up. One of the things Bennington did better than anyone else through his vocal delivery was his way of connecting with their fans on an emotional level. You felt his pain when he sang. To the misfit, the outsider, the marginalised, the comfort they felt that someone finally understood what they’d been through was priceless. The inescapable melancholy in Bennington’s voice, calm and measured, simmers in the prechorus, before he fixes his gaze on the heightening rage into the chorus:

“I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know

I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter”

Chester Bennington’s story isn’t unique in the music business, or in the rest of society. After I heard the news, I read through the comments on Stereogum’s Facebook post on his death. What a mistake. I was appalled by the people making jokes about Linkin Park’s music or even saying they weren’t surprised to hear of his suicide in the context of the dark material he and bandmate Mike Shinoda dared to broach in their lyrics. Some of you may say that that’s life, that there’s always going to be losers who want to be insensitive, no matter what the situation is.

But I want to believe in the best of humanity and choose to be positive. This is neither the time nor place to talk about them, but I’ve dealt with my own struggles and can say from personal experience that it’s a hard road back from the brink. And it’s also hard as hell when you’re living in a world where you’re surrounded by societal stigma for trying to get help and people telling you should buck up and quit complaining. It’s like trying to stand up straight while facing a tidal wave. It must be infinitely more difficult and frightening to cope with when you’re a celebrity and the pressures are exponentially higher and from so many different directions.

I think the worst part of this, for me, is thinking about Chester’s last moments on this earth. He was a man who gave so much of himself, laying out all his suffering for the world to hear in his lyrics. And at the end, he was alone. As TWLOHA founder Jamie Tworkowski wrote on his passing, Bennington was surely “knowing death came in a truly hopeless moment, knowing that single second steals the hope of every moment more, the words take on a different weight.” While we have lost a legend, we have the opportunity to come away from this tragedy and make a difference to not let this happen again. Let’s pledge to listen more, to be more understanding, to provide more support to our loved ones. Let Chester Bennington’s death not be in vain.

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One Response

11:39 am
24th July 2017

Its sad some people think its funny but not surprising Chester committed suicide. As a veteran I know the pain of loss and mental illness. The who world is quiet and your mind races 100 miles an hour. Its enough to drive you insane. But we change as we get older and sometimes our brains can play tricks on us. Mine did after meningitis. I think weird…I get stuck in my mind. It wasn’t always that way. I used to work as a commercial electrician and have two honorables of two separate US military services. My own father was a US Marine. My own father also jumped off a 200/foot bridge and killed himself when I was 17. Don’t judge Chester for doing what he did . Sometimes the pain is too much to bear. See the good in what he gave in his music.

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